Music in the Jewish Community of Palestine 1880-1948: A Social History

By Jehoash Hirshberg | Go to book overview

6
Music in the Land of the Bible, Pure Music, and Good Manners

THE genre of the biblical oratorio maintained a special position in the heated ideological climate of the Yishuv. The solemn moralistic and educational stance of the oratorio since the times of Handel and Haydn had been enhanced by the opportunity to enact the biblical heroic stories in loco. The participation of large amateur choruses which have won the support of the music educators was an added benefit. Moreover, productions of oratorio concerts were financially much less demanding than the costly opera. One of the earliest oratorio concerts in Palestine featured excerpts from Saint- Saëns The Deluge; Haydn The Creation; Mendelssohn Elijah; and Handel Samson, Judas Maccabeus, and the 'Hallelujah' chorus from The Messiah. Hanina Karchewsky, the first music teacher at the Herzlia Gymnasium in Tel Aviv, conducted a combined chorus of 'more than two hundred performers'.1 Such initiatives, however, remained sporadic and amateurish.

Menashe Rabinowitz has drawn an analogy between the events in England which led Handel from opera to oratorio and the decline of the Palestine Opera which cleared the way for the oratorio.2 The first serious enterprise in the realm of oratorio came with the immigration of Fordhaus Ben-Tzisi,3 who differed from the other immigrant musicians in his total identification with his deeply religious Hasidic family background. His ageing father had left his family in Russia and settled among the cabbalists in Safed4 where he died far from his family. Fordhaus had

____________________
1
Ha'Aretz ( 12 Apr. 1925).
2
"'Musical Life in the Country, i'", Davar ( 27 Mar. 1928). See Ch. 4, above.
3
An interview with Fordhaus ( 1898- 1981), 1976. Fordhaus was his original last name. After the death of his adored mother, Tzisi, he named himself Ben-Tzisi (Tzisi's son).
4
The cabbala is a medieval system of Jewish mysticism, whose upholders used secret ciphers to interpret the Scripture and thereby predict the end of days. The traditional centre of cabbala was the isolated holy town of Safed in the northern mountains of Palestine.

-93-

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